Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sara Garden Armstrong marks a homecoming, by JESSE CHAMBERS

Sara Garden Armstrong will show her installation at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, while her drawings will be displayed from 6-9 p.m. Feb. 2 at 21st Street Gallery.

Artist and Birmingham native Sara Garden Armstrong has lived in New York 35 years, making drawings, artist books and sculptures.
And the city’s been good for her, she said by phone from her Queens studio.
“It has a huge amount of energy, an amazing amount of art to see, wonderful conversations,” she said. “I love this place.”
Armstrong certainly doesn’t regret moving to New York from Birmingham in 1982 but, she said, “Now it’s time for another change.” She’s got a plan to move back to the Magic City full time in 2017.
“I want to do some things in Birmingham,” she said, and she’ll get started with two exhibitions, running concurrently Feb. 2-March 4.
Her multimedia installation, Breath and Shadow, will be at the Vulcan Materials Gallery at the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
Echo, an exhibition of 20 large-scale drawings, will be at the 21st Street Gallery.
Armstrong has exhibited nationally and internationally for almost 40 years, and her pieces are found in such collections as the Museum of Modern Art. 
And her work has one overarching theme. “It’s always organic,” she said.
Breath and Shadow is no exception. It mixes Armstrong’s work from different periods, including early drawings and hanging sculptures that look like natural shapes, such as leaves and seed pods. 
Some of the sculptures will move, cast shadows and appear to breathe, creating a living environment of air, light and sound.
“Breath and breathing have been in my work for a long time,” Armstrong said.
The Echo drawings, from the 1980s and 1990s, explore the same sculptural forms used in the ASFA installation.
“Some of these have never been shown,” she said.
Armstrong’s excited about returning to Birmingham, where she’s often visited and made work — including an atrium sculpture at UAB’s Civitan building.
One reason is affordability, given the Big Apple’s high costs.
“I have a gorgeous [work] space that I can’t have in New York,” she said.
It helps that Armstrong is moving back to her own three-story building downtown, the 21st Street Studios, which she bought in 1979 and has rented out.
The building contains artist spaces, as well as the 21st Street Gallery, the recently opened Ground Floor Contemporary gallery and the American Institute of Architects chapter.
Birmingham also has changed for the better, according to Armstrong.
“It’s much more open and has more going on,” she said.
And Armstrong sees positive signs in the visual arts community.
“There’s a younger group [of artists] that are doing some really interesting things,” she said. “I would like to help contribute to that energy that’s here.”
Echo is curated by Cumbee Tyndal, ASFA visual arts instructor.
The Vulcan Materials Gallery at ASFA will host an opening for Breath and Shadow Feb. 2 at 5 p.m.
The Echo opening at 21st Street Gallery, 111 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. S., will be Feb. 2, 6-9 p.m.